Somali PM heads to Ethiopia amid debate on his fate

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BAIDOA, Somalia, Oct 17 (Reuters) Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi flew to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa today, amid speculation he would quit as parliament debated the president's move to oust him.

Gedi, in his latest battle for political survival against President Abdullahi Yusuf, again denied through his allies that he was going to step down.

''I talked to him when he was at the airport and he didn't say anything like that,'' said Somalia's ambassador to Kenya and longtime Gedi confidante, Ali Mohamed Nur ''Americo''.

Gedi spokesman Abdullahi Odka in Baidoa said the prime minister flew to Ethiopia to meet the African Union, officials from donor countries and the Addis Ababa government.

Ethiopian manoeuvring put both Yusuf and Gedi in power at peace talks in Kenya in late 2004, but the two have duelled from the start -- from the location of a government base to most recently, oil exploration contracts.

Yusuf's allies tried a no-confidence vote against Gedi last year, which failed, but have renewed their push.

Yusuf argues Gedi's 30-month mandate is over, while Gedi says he has another 14 months left and parliament must decide.

Debating in a warehouse in the south-central trading town of Baidoa, 227 legislators today argued for and against putting the Gedi question up for a vote.

Speaker Sheikh Adan Madobe put the legislature in recess until Saturday after Gedi was whisked off to a waiting Ethiopian airplane, witnesses said.

A number of lawmakers and diplomats following the parliamentary machinations to oust Gedi said he was heading to Addis Ababa to resign.

''He will quit there, and he will not come back to Somalia,'' legislator Ali Basha, a close Yusuf ally, told Reuters by phone from Baidoa. ''His main concern was his own personal security.'' Baidoa has been tense during the parliamentary showdown with militias from Yusuf's Darod and Gedi's Hawiye clans protecting them, along with the usual presence of Somali soldiers and Ethiopian troops.

Diplomats say they are tired of the bickering impeding progress and have hinted at corruption in the government, the 14th attempt to install central rule since anarchy set in with the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Neither Gedi nor Yusuf has been publicly accused of corruption.

''Gedi has been given the same kind of deal the American government gave (former Kenyan President Daniel arap) Moi -- leave quietly and no jail,'' said a Somalia expert in Nairobi who is not permitted to speak to the media.

The expert did not say who had made that ultimatum to Gedi.

REUTERS PD HS1933

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